Sunday, 12 April 2015

Tabletop and Video

(Please forgive the Formatting of this one. I'm probably going to move all of my stuff to Wordpress, since Blogger hates Numbered Lists with a passion)

In case any of you lot were unaware, April is a big months for the geekier folk among us (Like myself) and it all kicks off (usually) with and event created by the visionary Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day: International Tabletop Day. It’s a day where people get together in a venue of their choice (Be it a Games Store or a local Community Centre or something) and all play board games together. They can be Deck Building Games, Board Games, RPG’s and anything and everything under the sun. In my town, ours is run by e-Collectica Games and their whole crew. It’s always awesome and you always get to interact with awesome people.

At any rate, I was thinking about Games Day which got me thinking about games. This got me thinking about Video Games and this got me thinking about the relation between the two.

To sum up: I want to discuss how awesome board games can be to Video Game designers, and how helpful they can be.

When I’m talking about Board Games, I don’t mean Ludo or similar “Roll to Win” games. I’m talking about Tabletop Games. These are basically Advanced Board Games. I tend to surmise them as “A Board Game in which the player has enough agency in their actions to strategize to achieve victory”. Games as simple as Connect 4 or Monopoly could be considered Tabletop Games (If you really stretch the definition).

That’s not to say there aren’t more advanced ones out there. Games like Last Night on Earth and Betrayal at the House on the Hill require a team of players working against another, all of them employing different strategic methods. Some games like Forbidden Island and Pandemic remove the Villain Player and make the game the villain. Even games with heavy amounts of Randomness like King of Tokyo or Zombie Dice are Tabletop Games (By my definition) as they still allow basic amounts of Strategy to Win.

However, in order to strategize, you need to know the rules. Rules are important, not just to keep chaos from taking over a Tabletop Game but also exist to be exploited to win it. For instance, the rules in Robo Rally state that the conveyerbelts on the board convey before the pushers push. Do you plan around that? Get pushed onto a conveyerbelt but avoid getting moved? Stuff like that is important.

To teach you the rules, games have to use Rulesheets. Big bits of paper that basically list how to play the game. While this isn’t a brilliant way of teaching the rules, it’s the only way a game can teach. A bad translation in a Tabletop Game can cripple the game completely. For instance, some friends and I tried to play Chronos, a game translated from German, but it was unplayable due to the Engrish that the rulesheet was written in.

Why is all of this important to Video Game Designers, I hear you cry?

Think about it. Take “Mega Man” for instance. What are the Rules of that game?

   1.       To win, the player must defeat the boss at the end of each stage
   2.       The Player can perform 3 Actions: Run, Jump and Shoot. You may perform any two actions simultaneously except Run and Jump.
   3.       You damage an enemy whenever you hit them with your Shoot Action, and Vice Versa.
   4.       If your health reaches 0, then you die, and must restart the stage. Each enemy does a different amount of damage.
   5.       If you die, lose a life.
   6.       If you touch a Spike, your health hits 0 instantly.
   7.       If you reduce a boss’s health to 0, you beat the stage.
   8.       On beating a stage, you gain that stage’s special weapon
   9.       You can refill your health using pickups.
   10.   You lose the game if you run out of lives.

There’s more, but that’s the gist of it, right? That right there is basically Megaman in a nutshell. Now, if you use Tiles to represent each area of the game, dice to resolve combat and tokens to change weapons, you have a pretty solid board game right there.

It doesn’t just apply to retro games either. It’s just easier to do it that way due to the story getting out of the way of the mechanics. But, we’ll do it for a more modern game, and one of my favourites. I’m not going to tell you the name of the game this time, you have to guess.

   1.       To win, you must defeat the final boss
   2.       You may only challenge the final boss when you have defeated at least 30 of his 40 minions. They can be found in predetermined rooms in the house. They only appear in rooms that you have lit up.
   3.       You can open up more of the house by collecting keys from dead bosses.
   4.       You may perform several actions in each room. You may either search, fight or leave.
   5.       Each new room you enter starts off Dark. You can light it up by defeating enemies in the room.
   6.       Some enemies require certain elemental abilities to defeat such as Ice or Fire. You can collect these at predetermined spots in the house.
   7.       You lose the game if your health hits 0, and must go from the nearest “Safe Spot” to try again. Your collected Keys, Money and Defeated Minions are all retained on returning to a safe spot.

Again, there’s more to the game than that, but that’s the basic essence. Again, it doesn’t sound dissimilar to a board game, yeah?

That’s because Board Games are just Video Games. They make you do the work behind the scenes calculating damage and stuff.

I will admit, Board Games can’t really do Real-Time combat like Video games can. It might be doable with enough space, but it’d still be pretty difficult.

Tabletop Games can teach us quite a bit however, about how to implement mechanics into a game, since when playing a Tabletop Game, the mechanics are all the player has to work with.

What I’m saying is if you’re into Games Design and haven’t given Board Games a chance, you should do so.

We can learn a lot by going analog for a while.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Persona 5: "Thou art I... Unless Thou hast only played Persona 3 and 4 in which case Thou art a Weeaboo"

A Persona 5 trailer came out a couple of months back. It’s a really good trailer and you should check it out if you haven’t yet. However, I’ve noticed some… division… from fans about it, namely over a few small aspects. Particularly, this:

On a lighter note: How fabulous is this menu, huh?

You see it yet? There’s something missing from the menu that many people have fallen in love with over the last few games and that’s the Social Link system. The Social Links, known as “Community” in Japan, basically give you something to do outside of Dungeon Crawling. You chat with NPCs or Party Members. As you do so, you learn more about them and their life, while also gaining a Rank in that social link. By levelling them up, you power up your ability to create Persona of that Arcana and eventually unlock an Ultimate Persona of that Arcana. It’s a pretty neat system and I personally love it. It fleshed out the world and made you remember that there are people outside of your little group that made up it up. It was cool. It also functioned as a sort of dating mechanic but if we start talking about that, I’ll get a load of “Chie is Best Girl” comments, so whatever.

The Social Links were added into Persona 3 and then refined in Persona 4 (To make them slightly more useful) but that’s a point of contention between fans of the franchise. There are some who think the games should return to their roots and those who believe that the games are fine as they are. The wake of the Persona 5 trailer has left the internet in a state of dispute. I’ve seen comments from both sides saying things like “Yay! The P3 and 4 babies can shut up because that horrible social link system is gone! Also Demons and Dual Weapons and yay!” and “I hope they have some form of social links in there, otherwise I probably won’t play it”.

The social links thing is far from the biggest talking point however. A lot of people are either celebrating or lamenting the fact that Demons are now back in the game. (Possibly, it looks that way but to be honest there’s so little information out there that there’s no way of knowing one hundred percent) This has led many to believe that the Negotiation System from P1 and 2 will make a return and for some reason, this has rustled the fanbase’s collective jimmies with similar comments.

This whole thing made me notice something.

The Persona Fanbase, more than any other fanbase I am a part of, is incredibly fucking elitist.

The thing that kicked off me writing this was a Facebook comment that I saw just today regarding the state of Persona and Shin Megami Tensei as a whole. Effectively, it was saying that people who have only played Persona 3 and 4 cannot call themselves “Fans”, of either Persona or Shin Megami Tensei since they haven’t experienced games like Devil Survivor or Raidou Kuzunoha. This argument, is fucking bullshit.

Full confession here: I have never played Persona 1 and 2. I prefer English Dubs in my anime, and as such, in my Persona. I have never played a previous Megaten game, nor do I ever intend to. I love Persona 3 and 4 as two of my favourite games of all time. I love everything about them. Social Links? Love ‘em. The simplistic yet somewhat intricate combat? Love it. The streamlined gameplay lets you be as complex or as casual as you want? Love it more than anything.

I feel these are the “Wrong” choices. I feel that by not playing Persona 1 or 2 that I’m not doing right by the franchise I love so much. I feel that by not demanding dual-audio that I’m somehow limiting the games I long to play. I feel by not playing a previous Megaten game that I’m not a real Persona fan.

This is a flawed fucking argument.

For one thing, it’s difficult for me to get copies of Atlus games in general, since I’m a filthy European not worthy of Atlus-Senpai’s love and I know all the other EU Atlus Fans out there feel this sting as well. I mean, we just got SMT4 less than 4 months ago. Some of the SMT games aren’t even available over here. Hell, I know I’m importing Persona 5 simply because it’ll be closer to 2016 when it actually arrives on European shores. But that isn’t really an excuse. Did it ever occur to people that I don’t want to be an SMT fan? Shocking, I know.

I have little to no interest in playing the Shin Megami Tensei games, I can say that flat out, since I just do not give a single fuck about it. If I’d stumbled across them on my own, I might have enjoyed them. But since I can’t even look at Persona fanpages on Facebook without seeing someone bring it up and then say that you don’t truly love the games if you haven’t played it or whatever, I associate it with negative feelings. For me, playing a core SMT game is now a chore, something I have to do to prove my worth over something I want to do for fun and enjoyment. The same thing happens whenever someone tells me to listen to an album by band d’jour and I’ve only listened to their newest stuff. Maybe I really like the new stuff and am more than happy listening to that? I don’t have to prove anything to you.

Also, it’s not just my peers, its people I respect doing this too. I follow a number of Persona fanpages on the internet. They post some funny Persona related content and that’s great. However, some select admins on those pages are so steeped in this SMT elitism that they end up ragging on games that they supposedly love.

The worst thing is that I’m getting called a Weeaboo by people. People who clearly love Japan and it’s products or they wouldn’t be getting this pissed off about it.

But I digress, again. When all’s said and done, I’m a fan of Persona. So I should focus on that rather than SMT, right?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’ve only played P3 and 4, if you’ve played every single Megaten game to date, if you hate the very idea of Dancing All Night, if you prefer P1 and 2 to 3 and 4 or, hell, if you’ve only watched the hiimdaisy Comic Dub. You are still a fan.

You still love something. The franchise, at some point, made you happy.

We need to get over this attitude that if you really like a certain feature or haven’t played certain games that you’re not a real fan. You can be critical of something without ragging on those that like it. If you hate the Social Link system, that’s fine! Just don’t tell others that they’re dumb for liking it and wanting it in the next instalment.

P1 and 2 fans. I want to play with you. Yeah, your games have been ignored recently, but that’s because Atlus feels that they can’t do right by them and they don’t want to accidentally fuck up something that the original creator loved so much (He’s since left Atlus). I feel that. Don’t get butthurt, however, that the series is going in a new direction. That is going to happen. I mean, just look at all the new fans that P3 and 4 have cultivated! Surely, some of those guys are going to go back and play the games that you hold so near and dear and that has to be a good thing, yeah?

P3 and 4 fans. You and I are of the same kin. We like the newer games and will buy the P4 spinoffs until they make “Persona 4 Arena 12: Teddie goes to Bangkok” or whatever. They’re great games and that’s awesome. But, just because P5 seems to be going back to its earlier days, don’t get upset. Nobody’s taking P3 and 4 away from you, they’re still there. You can still fight over Best P4 Waifu if you so desire. Just maybe, if you haven’t, give P1 and 2 a chance. I know I’m going to, before Persona 5 comes out (Albeit with a Strategy Guide by my side. From what I’ve heard the games do less Hand Holding and more Throwing you into a well which houses a tiger and expects you to fight it off with no knowledge of how to fight tigers. I mean that’s fine, but at least give me the basics of tiger pressure points…)

I honestly don’t know why I feel compelled to write this one. I just feel like it needed to be said.

In short: Let’s just love the franchise without insulting one another’s opinions of the games. They’re all awesome, for various different reasons.